Wineskins Archive

December 16, 2013

The Message of the Table: Preface (Jan 2012)

Filed under: — @ 10:06 am and

By Keith Brenton

In my church tradition – churches of Christ – we observe the Lord’s Supper every week. The key word in that sentence is “tradition,” based on an interpretation that the incident recounted in Acts 20:7 implies that first-century Christians shared the bread and the cup every week, and only on the first day of the week. Some even go so far as to call that interpretation a command.<br><br>Other fellowships observe this feast less often – some, once a year because Passover is observed once a year (and the first Last Supper was almost certainly a Passover meal); others, twice a year or quarterly (because that is their tradition). Some followers observe it rarely or not at all.

For some, only the bread is shared.

For some, the elements are shared only among believers and/or the baptized.

For some, the cup is filled with water; others, with wine; still others, the unfermented blood of the grape.

For some, the bread is flat and unleavened (like Passover matzoh) and for others it is not.

There are almost as many ways, rules, practices and traditions surrounding the Lord’s Table as there are church fellowships which dine there.

Personally, I think each one brings something unique to the Table. However, the Table is a place where the lavish meal shared by the Host shows the poverty of anything one could bring.

But on the subject of frequency (and even that subject is far too complex to treat in the preface to a series like this), I can’t say that I have ever heard of a group of believers who gather to partake of this meal every single day of every week of every year.

Yet, if the term “breaking bread” carries a consistent meaning in the New Testament, that is what the first believers did – in their homes and at the temple courts, the places where they worshiped together (Acts 2:42-47).

Perhaps that was observing too frequently and would be observing too frequently today. Perhaps not.

What we can be certain about from scripture – and this requires no interpretation – is that Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, took the bread and the cup and blessed and shared them with His closest friends. He is quoted by Paul as saying twice to them that when they took the bread and cup, they were to remember Him (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). When Luke records His visit in resurrected form with two men walking to Emmaus, it was when He broke the bread at dinner that they recognized Him (Luke 24:13-35).

And that’s the purpose of this weekly series: to recognize Jesus in the bread and the cup.

There is a wrong way to observe this meal, and Paul is plain about it in that chapter. He doesn’t mention content of the cup or the type of bread or the frequency of observance – in fact, quotes Jesus as saying, “whenever” or “as often as.” But he does emphasize intent, purpose, meaning, remembrance (twice), proclamation, recognition, and community with others – expressed in Corinth as patience until all arrive to share in the meal.

There is a right way to celebrate this Eucharist, too: with an unwavering, wholly fascinated, holy focus on the Christ.

He says “remember me,” and although Paul adds that we proclaim His death until He comes, His death is not the entirety of who He is. Jesus was before creation; all things were made by, through and for Him; and He sustains them all. He was spoken about by the Father to the first Adam, to the patriarchs, to Moses the lawgiver, to the prophets. He was born, lived, grew, taught, helped, healed, loved and died, then lived again … just as God’s word to all those before had said. And in living again, He gave His Holy Spirit to men to carry on the work God had in mind for us to do all the time: tell His Story and make known His name in all the earth (Genesis 12:8; Exodus 9:16; 1 Chronicles 16:8; Isaiah 12:4; Matthew 21:9, 28:19; Acts 2:21, 9:28; Revelation 15:4).

That’s the Story related by scripture: the Story of God and man. Jesus was both, to reconcile both. It is a Story about Him, start to finish. It looks forward to Him, looks intently at Him, looks back toward Him, then looks forward to His glorious return.

In every way, the Bible is the Story to be shared at the Table.

That’s what I hope this little series will communicate:

  • A call to remember Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man and the Savior of this world.
  • A call to proclaim Him as such; to demonstrate His unparalleled love for us in this self-sacrifice and to hear our own lives challenged to imitate it.
  • A call to corporately recognize the Host of our meal in its elements, in His presiding role at the Table, and in His Spirit within each one around it.
  • I don’t really intend for this series to become a lectionary for communion. With more than fifty devotional thoughts expressed, it will contain too few to reflect the exuberance of the Christians’ daily observance in Acts 2 and contains too many to examine for church traditions which surround the table only one to four times each year.

I do hope it will simply prompt a yearning to delve more deeply into the Story and help transform our time at the Table together from a rote requirement of law into an opportunity to remember, proclaim and recognize Jesus Christ.

Whether we’re at the Table or not, that’s something God wants us to do and be blessed by doing.

Every day of every week of every year.

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